Triple Play Trivia and Oddities

I was lucky enough to be in attendance for last night’s game between the Rays and Red Sox, where I got to see something rather rare: a triple play. In the fourth inning of the game, the Rays had runners on first and second with no outs, and Sean Rodriguez hit a sharp grounder right to Jed Lowrie at third base. Lowrie took two steps to the base and then started an easy 5-4-3 triple play. But as fate would have it, this play wasn’t even the first triple play turned this week. The Brewers turned an impressive 4-6-3-2 triple play on Monday against the Dodgers, the first time that sort of triple play has happened since 1972.

So naturally, these two plays have now turned my mind toward all things triple-play-related. Looking for some odd tidbits of information on these triple plays, or on triple plays in general? I’ve got you covered.

Rarity. As it turns out, the triple play is a much rarer event than I had thought. There have been 626 triple plays in baseball’s history, dating all the way back to 1876. That might seem like a large number compared with the amount of no-hitters (272) and perfect games (20) thrown over that time, but it’s worth remembering that in each game there are only two opportunities for a no-no or perfecto, but there are 17-18 opportunities for a triple play.

When you look at triple plays in this light — how often they have occurred based on the number of opportunities they have had to occur — they are around four times as rare as no-hitters. Of course, as fans we only really care what the odds are that we’re going to see an event in person (in which case, no-hitters are still more rare). But I figure it’s worth driving home the point that triple plays are actually very unique, uncommon events that simply have more opportunities for occurring than other rare events.

Organization Histories. Last night’s triple play was the first time the Red Sox have turned a triple play since July 8th, 1994 versus Seattle. It was the second triple play the Rays have hit into in their franchise’s history; their first one was on June 11, 2006 versus Kansas City. But for such a young franchise, the triple play isn’t a terribly rare event for the Rays. They have turned two triple plays themselves, one in 2002 and one in 2006, while it took them until last season for them to finally throw their first no-hitter.

Meanwhile, the Red Sox have been involved in 61 triple plays — 33 against them and 28 turned by them.

Back-to-Back. The last time two triple plays happened on consecutive days was back on May 22-23, 1981. The Mariners started things off with a 6-6-3 triple play against the Rangers, and the next day the Indians pulled off a 5-4-3 triple play against the Yankees.

But none of that compares to what happened on July 17, 1990, when the Twins pulled off two triple plays in the same game against the Red Sox. Man, talk about squeezing yourself out of jams…although the Red Sox still won the game.

Bad Day at the Office. Sean Rodriguez was the unlucky soul that hit into the triple play, but that was only one part of his day: he also got hit by a pitch twice yesterday, once in both games of the doubleheader. And oddly enough, this dual plunking might actually have been the most rare feat that Rodriguez’s accomplished yesterday. According to Plunk Everyone, there have only been eight players that have been hit by a pitch in both games of a doubleheader since 1989. Over that same time, there have been 87 triple plays.

Obviously doubleheaders are rather infrequent occurrences these days — so my earlier distinction about “rarity” holds true — but still, I find it somewhat fitting that Rodriguez “accomplished” both these dubious feats in the same day. Talk about adding pain to…well, more pain.

Does any of this information serve any real purpose? No, except to fill up brain space you could be using on actual important stuff like, you know, your social security number. But now you have some facts that can make you one of the coolest — AKA, nerdiest — people at the dinner table, which is all that really matters.

A big hat tip to SABR for this amazing triple play database. And a hat tip to Baseball Nation for finding the above video.

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Steve is the editor-in-chief of DRaysBay and the keeper of the FanGraphs Library. You can follow him on Twitter at @steveslow.

25 Responses to “Triple Play Trivia and Oddities”

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  1. jorgath says:

    You neglected to mention that the previous triple play executed by the Red Sox was an unassisted triple play. L6-6u-6u.

    I figure that’s noteworthy enough to overcome the usual attitude against “but you didn’t mention X” comments.

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  2. Bronnt says:

    Hmm, it’d be interesting to see what the average WPA is for a triple play. In that way, it seems like Sean Rodriguez might have gotten off easy, at only -.146 WPA. When Jeff Francoeur lined out to Eric Bruntlett for an unassisted triple play to end a game, it was worth -.32 WPA.

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    • Pop Tones says:

      A Very Interesting Thing about that Eric Bruntlett unassisted triple play was that Bruntlett himself was 98% responsible for the two (tying) baserunners involved in that play, with an error and a could-of-been-an-error bobbled infield hit to start the 9th inning.

      One of the truly divine and incomprehensible plays of baseball history. Man, Eric Bruntlett sure did suck in 2009.

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  3. Adam says:

    I was at Fenway Park on July 17, 1990, when the Minnesota Twins turned two triple plays, both 5-4-3, one by Tom Brunansky and the other by Jody Reed. And the Red Sox still won the game 1-0. My brothers and I were beside ourselves when Reed into the second double play. Probably not as cool as seeing a no-hitter in person (I’ve never seen one of those), but it was pretty cool.

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    • FanGraphs Supporting Member

      No-hitters are undoubtedly cooler to see, if for no other reason than there’s so much suspense. There’s no real suspense with the triple play….it’s over a done with and then you’re left standing there in shock.

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  4. Bruce says:

    i saw a triple play at Fenway, turned by the Sox. I can’t recall the year….but the Angels were in town….Jerry Remey hauled in a short fly to right, back to home (an amazing play in and of itself)…with Angels on 1st and 2nd. He made the throw to Burleson while falling away, then Burleson threw to Boomer Scott to catch Reggie Jackson…Sox won

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  5. TheBigDawg says:

    Best triple-play in history: my 5-year old t-ball team turned one last season. The kids had no idea what happened, only the adults knew the significance.

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  6. Morse says:

    The ultimate rally killer.

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  7. JP says:

    To all Fangraphs writers: “unique” does not mean rare or unusual. It means one of a kind. Things cannot be “very unique.” Something is either unique, or it’s not. There are no degrees of uniqueness.

    Please end this improper usage that destroys the meaning of the word, and leaves us with just another synonym for rare or unusual. We have plenty of those already.

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    • mrg says:

      This is not correct. While “very unique” is an error, it is grammatically correct to say “extremely unique” or even “really unique.” Unique is a word that is in a grammatical category of adjectives like freezing, boiling, and starving, that shouldn’t be modified with “very,” but that can be modified with other adjectives. Whether it is semantically appropriate is another question, I suppose, but “unique” does admit to modification in English. Look at any intermediate-level TEFL student’s book.

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    • zbelair says:

      The word unique itself is nonsensical if you wish to be all technical. Every thing being and idea is unique, made of different atoms or of different times and origins. The word unique is more appropriately explained as (I don’t wish to create my own “formal’ definition as this is my interpenetration) an idea that has distinguishing characteristics that make it interesting. Following this reasoning to say something is very unique is to say that it has more of these characteristics or they are of more interest.

      In baseball terms all I am saying is that by your definition either nothing can be unique, as it could always happen again and thus not have the potential to be one of a kind, or everything is unique because it happened at the specific time and location involving the same people and could never be recreated. In my eyes your definition of the word is what really destroys its meaning.

      ps. this is in no way an attack on you, I have heard this argument from countless numbers of people on both sides. I merely bring it to your attention to show you that its not a set in stone rule and that many words can be made useless if scrutinized thoroughly.

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      • zbelair says:

        actually if you look in the dictionary one of the definitions of unique is

        “5. not typical; unusual: She has a very unique smile. “

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      • zbelair says:

        better clarification:

        “Usage note
        Many authors of usage guides, editors, teachers, and others feel strongly that such “absolute” words as complete, equal, perfect, and especially unique cannot be compared because of their “meaning”: a word that denotes an absolute condition cannot be described as denoting more or less than that absolute condition. However, all such words have undergone semantic development and are used in a number of senses, some of which can be compared by words like more, very, most, absolutely, somewhat, and totally and some of which cannot.
        The earliest meanings of unique when it entered English around the beginning of the 17th century were “single, sole” and “having no equal.” By the mid-19th century unique had developed a wider meaning, “not typical, unusual,” and it is in this wider sense that it is compared: The foliage on the late-blooming plants is more unique than that on the earlier varieties. The comparison of so-called absolutes in senses that are not absolute is standard in all varieties of speech and writing.”

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  8. Braves Fan says:

    You should have included a little blurb about unassisted triple plays. They must be rarest of rares.

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  9. ElJosharino says:

    A friend of mine recently posed this bit of trivia:
    How could 3 outs be recorded on a single play without the defense touching the ball?
    A: Runners on 1st and 2nd. Batter hits an infield fly and is called out. The runner on 1st absentmindedly starts running at the crack of the bat, passes the runner on 2nd and is called out. The batted ball hits the remaining baserunner as it falls.

    I wonder if it’s ever actually happened. I wonder even more how it would be scored.

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    • GiantHusker says:

      I can’t authenticate this, but a very reliable friend told me that he once saw this happen in a Little League game.

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  10. Tommy Lasordas Pasta says:

    One more tidbit from the Brewers/Dodgers triple play: James Loney hit into the triple play, then, in his next at bat, hit into a double play.

    For those of you scoring at home, that’s 2AB, 5 outs. Impressive!

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    • rickpo says:

      Ron Wright of the Seattle Mariners in 2002 got into his first major league game. He struck out with the bases loaded, hit into a double play, and hit into a triple play.

      He got sent back to te minors, and as far as I know, never played another major league game.

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  11. Eric M. Van says:

    Perhaps my favorite piece of baseball trivia ever: the last triple play in a Sox game had been the one Scott Hatteberg hit into on August 6, 2001. He hit a grand slam in his next plate appearance, a unique feat. That almost made up for the August 29th, 2000 game against the Rays where Carl Everett failed to hit a single in the top of the 9th, which would have made him the only player in MLB history to switch-hit homers and hit for the cycle in the same game, and Pedro Martinez lost a no-hitter in the bottom of the inning. (Everett actually had two chances at the single for the cycle and hit the second HR the first time.) Oh, and this was also the game in which the Rays had three pitchers ejected for throwing at Sox hitters, along with two other players, the manager, and two coaches, while the Sox had no one tossed, which may have been unique as well.

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  12. ABW says:

    I was at the ’94 Sox-Mariners game where John Valentin turned an unassisted triple play – my memory is pretty hazy but it was a weird play and only happened because of some terrible baserunning – a lineout to Valentin playing short, who tagged the guy who had been on second and had a lead and wasn’t able to get back to second in time(fair enough), and then Valentin just ran over and tagged the guy who had been running from first(???). Why the runner on first had gotten that far toward second instead of just staying on first was not clear then or now. The whole play was over very quickly and I remember being really confused for a second before realizing what had happened.

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  13. LionoftheSenate says:

    While a triple play is more difficult to pull off than a No-hitter, it is still more rare to go to a game and see a No-hitter than a triple play.

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  14. LionoftheSenate says:

    I’m of course referring to the number of chances in a game for a triple play and chances for a no-hitter. A no-hitter is simply more rare, it happens much less frequently.

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